Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

lundi, mars 12, 2007

Hippo Lake (Bala, Burkina Faso)

A line of bubbles surfacing on the lake was making a path directly towards our metal skiff. The four men poling in the back of the boat tried to quickly put us into reverse as the students in the boat regretted never learning how to swim. Suddenly, a large grey mass raced to the surface as the mother hippo emerged in an open-mouthed rage.
Well, that’s not exactly how my trip to the hippo lake in the southwestern Burkinabe town of Bala took place, but hippos are one of Africa’s biggest killers. Our visit found a group of calm and peaceful hippos enjoying their natural environment. Patrick and I, along with a few other volunteers, had arrived at the lake area earlier in the day. The morning was spent hiking in the nearby forest in an unsuccessful attempt to find monkeys. However, close to the lake’s edge we heard hippo sounds – great gasps and grunts – but did not see any until we rode out onto the lake.
The boatmen poled the aluminum skiff along the shoreline to where a group of hippos were spotted. We stopped behind a clump of tall grass growing out of the water approximately 40 feet from several hippos. Upon counting, we saw at least 20 in our vicinity. It was midday and their energy level was low and activity primarily included rising to the surface for a few gulps of air and then sinking back towards the bottom until the next breath was needed. Occasionally, one would swim out into the lake but a walking hippo was not spotted.